It’s estimated that the global population will reach almost 10 billion by 2050.
In order for the planet to feed this many mouths, it's crucial that we source our food sustainably - meaning in a way that doesn’t destroy biological diversity (biodiversity) and, instead, which actively replenishes it.
We can source food sustainably by protecting, and increasing, the huge variety of animals and plants that support life on Earth: known as biodiversity.
Biodiversity provides us with clean air, fresh water, good quality soil and crop pollination and will help us fight climate change.
We need food to live and fields to produce it
For millennia, ever since the first farmers tilled the soil, humankind has been working the land to produce crops and provide for our animals.
Over the last 50 years there’s been a global drive to create more, and cheaper, food to feed the ever-growing population.
However, science shows this has set into motion a chain of events that is damaging the health of both people and planet today. Scientists call this the 'Cheaper Food Paradigm', it shows that heavy industrial food production is now contributing to climate change and is accelerating biodiversity loss.
BUT THERE IS HOPE
Farming vegetables sustainably and protecting biodiversity is needed for the future health of our planet and that of the human race.
Sustainable farming can help bring our planet back to good health and Birds Eye are committed to following a sustainable agriculture model of farming which works to actively replenish biodiversity.
What is Sustainable Farming?
Sustainable farming, also known as sustainable agriculture, means carefully looking after the fields where vegetables grow and protecting the biodiversity of the land so that we farm with the future health of our planet in mind and protect the food chain for generations to come.
In 2018 Birds Eye joined the SAI Platform - the world's leading initiative for developing and promoting sustainable agriculture.
We follow the SAI Platform’s key principles to not only grow enough vegetables for the nation but to grow them while having a positive impact on the environment and society. These principles cover areas such as soil, nutrient, water and waste management, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, crop protection, farm and labour management and plant material selection. We score ourselves on the SAI Platform's principles to ensure we are working SUSTAINABLY, reducing our environmental impact and farming with the future in mind.
Farming Sustainably on an Holistic Level
Birds Eye uses traditional and modern farming principles and practices to actively increase biodiversity, enrich the soil, improve water retention, and help ecosystems thrive.
By looking at all aspects of the farming management, what we call 'holistical' farming, our sustainable farming practices look to capture more carbon in soil to retain more water, and use any waste produced above ground to biodiversity's advantage, helping to increase biodiversity and, as a result, contribute to helping reverse climate change.
Birds Eye's Sustainable Agriculture programme includes using progressive technology and working with research institutes to advance the technology we use in harvesting our crops.
We use the best of modern technology combined with traditional farming methods to help deliver the best crop yields that enrich the environment, boost biodiversity and also, importantly, engage local communities.
BIRDS EYE CASE STUDY
Today, Birds Eye's on-the-ground decision-making is made quicker and with more accuracy by using cutting-edge weather forecasting and precision soil sampling technology. This helps the fieldstaff identify if fields are suitable for growing peas as well as when to sow and harvest the peas.
We can also access satellite remote sensing technology to help us monitor pea crop health and development. Typically, plants show stress in a band of light invisible to the human eye but the advanced sensing technology can pick this up so when a plant comes under stress from drought, disease or pest pressure, by monitoring the data, instead of leaving the plant to mature more quickly than it should, the Birds Eye Field Team is able to intervene before any damage is visible to the human eye and make harvesting decisions earlier so every pea can be harvested at its peak, ensuring consistency and the highest quality in every single pea.
Working with our pea farmers
By building close, and long-term, relationships with our growers, we can share knowledge and expertise to support them in developing action plans to help protect animal species and their habitats.
Examples of how farmers can help safeguard biodiversity:
- Delay hedge cutting until late winter (so birds can feed for longer) and
- Grow flowers on the edges of field to provide a source of nectar for insects.
We are working with environmental experts to help all our UK pea growers implement a biodiversity action plan which is bespoke to their farm. So far we have implemented environmental action plans for 240 farmers, covering over 60,000 hectares of land (that's the equivalent of 148,200 football pitches!) in East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire.
GOOD TO KNOW: Ground nesting birds, including threatened species like lapwing and skylark, breed more successfully in peas than other crops and Birds Eye has an active programme to help conserve these species
Soil is the lifeblood of biodiversity
95% of the planet's food relies on soil. A major component of soil's organic matter (the good stuff!) is carbon. Carbon helps soil retain water better so plants can grow strong and healthy. Healthy soil that successfully retains water also reduces the plants' dependance on water from other natural sources such as lakes, reservois, canals and wetlands.
But one third of the world’s arable soils are now suffering in quality, with 30 football pitches’ worth of soil being lost every minute due to degradation, where the soil doesn't retain the nutrients it needs to provide a compatible habitat for plants. Some industrial farming practices including monocropping - where only one crop is grown in a field consistently - and synthetic fertilisers can damage soil health over time.
In contrast, Birds Eye's Sustainable Agriculture practices contribute to healthy soil by increasing the sequestration of carbon and therefore improving water retention, resulting in a reduced need for pesticides and synthetic fertilisers.
Birds Eye is committed to working together with their farmers to understand how we can further improve our soils and reduce our carbon footprint. Read on to learn about one of our current trials looking into the impact of cover crops on carbon.
GOOD TO KNOW: Ten Birds Eye sites across the UK are currently taking part in a one-year pilot to investigate the practicalities and impact of planting wildflower margins in areas of fields previously unused.
The Power of Cover Crops
Soil organic matter has dropped by 50% over the past 60 years, using cover crops to restore these levels not only has the potential to re-establish soil health, but could also help prevent flooding.
Research shows that achieving just a 1% increase in soil organic matter would enable agricultural land to store an extra 200,000 litres of water per hectare.
Increasing organic matter also means less farm inputs (like fertilisers) are required to improve soil health. This leads to healthier rivers and watercourses, healthier local flora and fauna, and healthier resilient soils.
BIRDS EYE CASE STUDY
In 2020, Forty of our Birds Eye pea farmers and 1,000 acres of land in East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire took part in a landmark project in collaboration with Yorkshire Water, Future Food Solutions and Hull and Teeside Universities (who will continue to monitor and measure the programme's results) to measure the impact of cover crops on the soil. The Humber Landscapes project sees farmers grow cover crops between harvesting peas and sowing wheat. The cover crop is cut and left on the field to increase organic matter which, in turn, boosts soil health.
Nicknamed 'pop-up rainforests' because of their ability to absorb and store huge amounts of CO2, cover crops like oats, radishes, and phacelia can help to reverse the ongoing rise in atmospheric CO2 levels which is a contributing factor to climate change.
In just 90 days, the cover crop programme removed sufficient carbon to make 400 UK families (of four people) carbon neutral for a year - that’s an annual saving of four tonnes of atmospheric carbon. This means that if cover crops were grown on a global scale, arable farming could become the first sector of the economy to be net carbon zero.
Pollination and Biodiversity
Bees and butterflies are examples of pollinating insects, or pollinators. Pollinators feed from the nectar on flowers and as they travel between different plants they deposit it resulting in the pollination of the seeds in the different plants. This process is called cross-pollination and it is an essential process for many plants to continue to exist, thrive and multiply.
Pollination is a fundamental requirement for the preservation, and replenishment, of biodiversity. Biodiversity is at risk if the habitats and food sources of pollinators , like bees and butterflies, are destroyed, so we need to do all we can to feed pollinators by providing nectar-rich plants in our green spaces.
What can I do to help?
Animals use up more of the Earth’s natural resources to grow than vegetables so to keep us and the planet healthy we should be making twice as much space on our plates for veg. But not just any veg. We need to be making space on our plates for more sustainably grown vegetables from farmers following environmentally sound and socially responsible agricultural practices. We can also each do our bit to help protect biodiversity by encouraging pollinating insects to visit our own green spaces.
We are delighted to be working with TV Gardener Daisy Payne (@gardentogarnish) to help us all get the most out of our outdoor areas and show us what we can do to help increase biodiversity in our own backyard.
Check out Daisy's social posts at @gardentogarnish to learn more tips and tricks for helping biodiversity!
Daisy's Top Tips to Help Preserve Biodiversity:
- Keep it native: Try to use plants that will encourage a wide range of pollinating insects and other wildlife.
- Go wild: If you have a garden, allow a small area to grow ‘wild’, or leave a patch of fallen leaves. Insects, birds and small mammals will benefit from the cover and native plants.
- Tree planter: if you don’t have access to a garden or outdoor space, why not look out for a tree down your street, they often have soil at the base so you can grow the Birds Eye wildflower seeds there quite easily
- Inspire the future: Get children involved in gardening activities - inspiring future generations to love and respect wildlife is the best way to protect nature in the long-term
- Know the source: When buying foods, take a look at what the manufacturers are doing to support sustainability. You can do this by looking at their website or on the pack.
During the first lockdown James created a series of videos explaining the history of the humble pea, how to plant and care for the peas as well as the importance of soil and bees to our fragile ecosystem.
You can watch the series here